WhenI blogged about Second Life in July, it appeared that interest in the virtual world was waning, with consumers largely ignoring the storefronts of companies like Dell and Best Buy and businesses steering clear of Second Life due to concerns over security, reliability and regulatory issues. Gartner, for one, assured companies they were right to be concerned.
In August, Gartner advised companies interested in virtual environments to stick to only those that could be hosted behind corporate firewalls.
However, a deal between IBM and Second Life owner Linden Lab could make the virtual world a more business-friendly place. As InformationWeek reports, IBM will run Second Life on servers behind its firewalls, in order to access the environment for internal projects. IBM and Linden Lab hope to make the capability available for pilots by other companies by the end of 2008.
This appears to mark a major shift to expand Second Life's mainstream appeal. After six months or so of stagnant growth, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale announced last month that he is leaving the company.
IBM is offering similar capabilities for Activeworlds and has built a software toolkit that can be used for either platform.
Linden Lab faces a growing amount of competition for corporate business. A Wall Street Journal article mentions several companies, including Qwaq, Multiverse Network (also mentioned in InformationWeek) , Activeworlds and Forterra Systems, most of which offer software that helps companies build their own internal virtual worlds. It also cites Sun Microsystems, which used internally developed software called Project Wonderland to create a virtual workplace called MPK20.
When I blogged about MPK20 last April, it was still just a concept, though Sun expected to deploy it internally within six months (a goal it obviously met). At that time, it seemed like Sun's early activities in Second Life led it to conclude that a more business-friendly alternative was needed. Now there seem to be plenty of these alternatives.
Just last month, I spoke to Steve Kramer, the chief technology officer of iCongo, which provides software used to create interactive 3D technology for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer applications. The business case for B2B applications is "very simple," he told me.
A lot of companies have big annual sales rallies or other events where they bring together a lot of their employees and business partners. They're very costly events. People have to travel. Our event platform, which is not a very big investment, is a very easy business case for people to sell internally. The virtual events don't have to be as branded as the interfaces where you are facing a consumer. So we are able to use a more generic application; it's very cost-effective.
While large publication and advertising companies have been organizing virtual events such as job fairs for companies, Kramer said the introduction of easy-to-use development tools will lead more companies to create their own interactive events. Says Kramer:
Who better to create the event than the people who really know the business and the audience for it?